Part 3 – Some Berries Are Poison
(for PART 2: A Challenge From Nature click here)
As is so often the case when we speak of nature and natural things, there is a potentially fatal hazard to all this, and it is that not all berries are good to eat. In fact, some berries are specifically bad to eat and consumption of these little devils can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to diarrhea to hallucinations to being poisoned to death. You will want to avoid berries in the following circumstances.
- If the berries have a skull and crossbones symbol on them, you do not want to eat those berries. The skull and crossbones is the international symbol for poison.
- If the berries are surrounded by the skeletal remains of humans and and animals, you do not want to eat those berries. The berries are either deadly and caused all these creatures to die, or there is some sort of dangerous beast lurking near the berries that has been killing people and creatures as they feed on the otherwise-harmless berries. Either way, this is no place for the wary traveler.
- If the berries smell terrible, you do not want to eat those berries. Even if they are not poison they will smell terrible and that stink could spread to the rest of your gear.
- If the berries are red, under no circumstances should you eat those berries.
- If the berries are sentient and plead with you not to eat them, and perhaps promise that they will grant you a wish should you leave them alone, you do not want to eat those berries. This situation has likely never happened, but it is a matter of simple common sense.
- If the berries are poisonberries, you do not want to eat those berries. Poisonberries are as common as strawberries and blueberries and most people reading this already know about them as they can be found at most grocery emporiums. As their name suggests, they are extremely poisonous.
- If there is no way for you to reach the berries, you do not want to eat those berries. This crucial survival tip is demonstrated in the classic Aesop fable about the fox and the sour grapes1.
- If the berries are infested with worms or other vermin, you do not want to eat these berries. The worms are likely not poisonous and have no bearing on the poisonous nature of the berry. In fact, the fact that they are eating the berry is probably a good sign that the berry is safe to eat. So upon further reflection, I rescind this example. Eat the berries with worms in them.
Epilogue To The Berry Chapter: Berries In The Long Term
Though most would agree that it is a profound failing on the part of plants that berries are so easily found and consumed, there is one way that plants get the last laugh, so to speak (though plants do not laugh). When berries are egested, their seeds remain in the dung of the beast that egested them, and from this dung, a new berry bush grows. Thus the circle of life continues as the parents give up their lives for their young. And thus, we can reach the somewhat unpleasant conclusion that every time you eat a berry, you are in fact eating reconstituted dung and should feel an overwhelming sense of shame.
The true outdoorsineer can use this knowledge to prepare for long-term excursions into the wild. Note that “long-term” in this case refers to a stay in the wild of perhaps several years and as a result this section may be skipped by the casual fun-venturer. But for the committed, here is a technique that will allow you to create a constantly-replenishing food supply: intentionally leave droppings in places where you would like a berry bush to grow.
After eating berries, the outdoorsman should take careful stock of where he does his defecating, for each dung pile forms the future location of a new berry bush. It is therefore not recommended that you defecate all in one place, for then all the berry bushes would grow up in the same location and would compete for resources, and some of the berries would surely die. Instead, defecate in a different place each time you eat berries so that you eventually form a ring around your campsite. Then, water the droppings with pee-pee2. In time, sprouts will grow out of the dung and, in more time, these sprouts will mature into full-fledged berry bushes. The berries from these bushes can be eaten and turned into dung to create even more new berry bushes.
Some have criticized this advice as skirting the edge of madness, and these criticisms shall be aired out here, for this method of berry creation does bring the outdoorsman uncomfortably close to the position of a god among the berries. Berries are born into terror, knowing that they will someday be eaten by the cruel camper who lives among them. And yet they must be eaten, for without the life-giving berry-filled dung, none of the berry bushes would exist in the first place. Imagine, then, the nihilistic life of a berry. Death and birth go hand-in-hand, and either may come swooping in from above at any minute. The berry has no defenses against this, lacking fangs, claws, wings, or other survival mechanisms, and is left merely to wait for its coming demise. This kind of thinking can get inside an outdoorsineer’s head and, if extrapolated beyond berries, can get him pretty close to being a serial killer. So, as always, exercise caution and restraint in all things!
In conclusion, the point of this chapter is that sometimes you can eat berries.
- As the story goes, a fox came upon a cluster of grapes and attempted to eat them, but no matter how hard he leaped he could not reach them. Eventually he gave up and left, muttering that the grapes were likely sour anyway. Aesop of course was not a very good writer and he made two key errors in this fable. First, foxes cannot talk, so the entire parable makes precious little sense as any sane person would see that the truly interesting element of the story is this amazing talking fox. And the second error is that grapes are not berries. [↩]
- Or with water, but as we have already taken a decidedly scatological twist, why not continue down this boorish road? Pee-pee and poo-poo and ca-ca and so on and so forth. [↩]